Transforming Metrotown

Paterson SkyTrain station, looking to new residential towers south of the Metrotown shopping complex

The older retail blocks on Kingsway near the mall have struggled over the years. Tenants include payday loan shops, tattoo parlours and porn outlets.

The City of Burnaby has adopted a new long-term development plan for the Metrotown district. By 2040, Metrotown is to be transformed by the redevelopment of its signature shopping malls into a “finergrained network of public streets, lanes, pedestrian connections, plazas, squares, parks, and open spaces.” Metrotown is to become a classic downtown core in a suburban city of 240,000 that has lacked a focus until now.

The July 2017 plan replaces a 1977 document that, visually at least, had a creepy, adopted-by-aliens vibe. The old plan facilitated the growth of the Metrotown shopping complex, Canada’s second-largest indoor shopping centre, along with a surrounding ring of apartment towers. The shopping centre is a busy place with an enormous variety of services, but it shows blank facades to the outside world. As I pointed out after my 2012 visit, the streets and concrete plazas around the mall lack life and colour.

Addressing this lack of urban character is a big part of what the new plan is about. The City wants more streetfront retail in Metrotown, better connections for pedestrians and cyclists, and more attractive public space. After some well-deserved criticism for its approach to rental and affordable housing issues, the City states in the plan that it will welcome rental housing anywhere in Metrotown, and offer incentives for the development of non-market housing:

“All sites with a residential designation, including applicable mixed-use sites, have the potential to include nonmarket housing, which is inclusive of non-market rental housing (public housing, non-profit rental housing, and cooperative housing), housing with supports (community care facilities, assisted living, and supportive housing), and transitional housing.  (co-op, non-profit or government-sponsored).”

A detail from the 2017 Metrotown plan. The dotted streets in Metro Downtown show what might happen if today’s indoor malls are removed.

The area described in the 2017 plan goes well beyond the big shopping centres, running east to Royal Oak, west to the City of Vancouver boundary, and taking in the kilometre-square Central Park. This Metrotown district houses an estimated 27,700 people, 62 per cent of them immigrants. The new plan contemplates the addition of high-density housing in the new downtown as well as in Maywood, on top of improvements that will bring culture, education, social services and tourism interest to the new Burnaby downtown.

My co-tourist Bob Smarz and I started our walk at the mall, spiralled south through Maywood and along the edge of Central Park to Central Park North. We returned along the Kingsway to lunch at the Firefighters Public House, which I have visited many times and always enjoy. The pub is owned by the International Association of Firefighters, and the servers receive the benefits of belonging to their own union.

Cafe umbrellas on the north side of Kingsway near Willingdon, August 2017

The Old Orchard Mall on Kingsway has valuable and accessible services as well as a valuable swath of pavement. The City plan fingers Old Orchard for redevelopment.

A 1950s duplex on Metrotown’s northern perimeter. 97 per cent of the households in the area live in apartments, 2 per cent in attached homes and 1 per cent in detached homes.


A landscaped 1970s apartment tower in the Central Park East precinct, a zone consisting entirely of high-rise apartments.

A pathway in Central Park, near Paterson Avenue

Holding for development on the north side of Kingsway near Paterson. Cash only please.

Maywood: as noted in a previous post, many walkup apartment buildings in this precinct are slated for demolition.

Firefighters Public House, just outside the mall

Pedaling on the Central Valley Greenway

Under the SkyTrain guideway just east of Rupert station, Vancouver.

It would be nice, perhaps, if cycling was the dominant mode of transportation in our West Coast urban world. We’ll never know. In reality, most people cringe at the idea of riding side-by-side with cars and trucks.

Winston Street through industrial Burnaby, 11:30 a.m. Saturday

When I told a 60-something friend about my plan to pedal across Vancouver and Burnaby for fun, she said, “That’s dangerous!” I said, “No, we’ll be riding an off-road trail. Local governments built a safe route from downtown Vancouver to New West.” Continue reading

Revisiting the Heights

Confederation Park, Burnaby Heights, Friday morning

At the suggestion of a reader, I returned to Burnaby Heights this past week, five years after my first visit to the community.

Hastings Street in northwest Burnaby is the city’s most interesting commercial strip, with an array of ethnic food outlets, cafes and specialty shops. The urban trees have grown up quickly, providing cover for architectural flaws. The border with the City of Vancouver is just blocks away, with frequent bus service to downtown. Burnaby’s city government has laid on excellent services such as playing fields, an aquatic centre and a big library. All this makes a great foundation for an urban village, if you’re prepared for the heavy traffic and noise as you shop or stroll. Continue reading

They’re stackin’ ’em in at Brentwood

Space between apartment towers off Rosser Avenue in Burnaby’s Brentwood district, looking to Gilmore

A rendering of the Shape Properties “Amazing Brentwood” development plan as published in VanCity Buzz

The City of Burnaby is on track to win an award, if it exists, for the most extreme residential densification in western Canada.

Tower development at Metrotown has leapt into an affordable rental housing zone and displaced hundreds of long-term tenants. People protesting against these “demovictions” occupied the office of Mayor Derek Corrigan in early March. At Lougheed Town Centre further east, Shape Properties has set up a site office for “The City of Lougheed”, promising 23 or more “stunning high-rise towers” in close proximity, stretching as high as 55 storeys. The same developer has started construction on “Amazing Brentwood”, depicted here, to include 11 residential towers as well as a redeveloped shopping mall and street-facing retail space. Continue reading

Demolition in a vintage rental neighbourhood

High Style Living

Five years after tower construction first jumped the Skytrain line at Metrotown, the City of Burnaby continues to enable the destruction of 1950s and ’60s era rental housing in the area.

Rick McGowan, a neighbourhood activist and townhome owner, estimates that 560 rental units have been replaced by owner-occupied condo towers, or are slated for demolition. More worrying, he says, is the fact that there is no end in sight. Continue reading

Walking in circles at Lougheed Town Centre

The Lougheed Town Centre mall with 1970s apartment towers

The Lougheed Town Centre mall with 1970s apartment towers

Who would choose a mall parking lot as a place to take a walk?

By the common definition, Lougheed Town Centre is a second-tier mall at the eastern edge of the city of Burnaby, with a Walmart and a London Drugs. Alternatively, it’s a nearby rapid transit station and a different set of parking lots. Continue reading

Accepting the shift in Burnaby Edmonds

Residential towers adjacent to the High Gate Centre, Edmonds

Residential towers at Highgate, Edmonds

With a population of 234,000, Burnaby is the third-largest city in Metro Vancouver and in British Columbia. It has no single centre. City Hall sits in science fiction isolation beside tranquil Deer Lake and its park. Commercial and residential growth is focused in “town centres,” three of which are anchored by enormous shopping malls: Brentwood, Lougheed and especially Metrotown.

Edmonds, a fourth town centre, is the runt of the litter. I travelled there to measure its shapeKingsway 3 and size in summer 2014,  landing at Greenford Ave. and setting out along the south side of  Kingsway. Other than a block of shops on the north side, Kingsway seemed kind of a mess, mixing automotive lots with ageing towers.

I held out hope that Edmonds Street, narrower and quieter, would offer  more charm. Edmonds and Kingsway was the site of the first Burnaby municipal hall, built in 1899 when this was still a rural district. Edmonds Street, five kilometres east of Metrotown, has some of the makings of a village shopping street, supported by decent public transit and a stock of nearby walk-up apartment buildings. Continue reading